Some of Emma Eun-joo Choi’s earliest memories of NPR are her mom switching on “Marketplace” while driving her to theater practice.
“[NPR is] just something that’s always been around for me,” said Choi, 22. “But I never imagined that I would end up here in such a significant way.”
Choi is NPR’s newest and youngest host — her show, “Everyone & Their Mom,” premiered last week under the umbrella of long-running quiz show “Wait Wait... Don’t Tell Me!,” and will be released every Wednesday as a podcast. (It will not air live on any NPR radio station.) Choi, a junior at Harvard University, started at “Wait Wait” as an intern last January.
As an English major, Choi planned to focus on fiction writing, but she delved into improv comedy once she arrived at college. “I was always a really weird Korean kid in a white environment, and comedy was the way that I could control the way people looked at me,” she said.
“Everyone & Their Mom” follows a basic format: Choi banters with a different co-host every week about a humorous news story, inserting interviews and comedic bits along the way. For the first episode, she talked with comedian Emmy Blotnick about a British zoo that enlisted a Marvin Gaye impersonator to serenade a group of endangered monkeys in hopes it would get them to mate. As the name of the show suggests, Choi’s mother will be a frequent guest on the program, alongside celebrity guests and established “Wait Wait” panelists.
“I’m really excited at the prospect of NPR being a new comedy space — like how Tiny Desk is a space for music,” said Choi. “Our base demographic is definitely my parents’ demographic, which is not a bad thing at all, but a lot of people like me grew up listening to ‘Wait Wait,’ and now we can choose our own content.”
In a phone call from her dorm room, Choi talked with the Globe about her hosting duties, her advice from Peter Sagal, and what she does when a guest leaves her starstruck.
Q. What was your “Wait Wait” internship like?
A. It was a jack-of-all-trades internship. The intern duties usually are you do guest research for the guest that week, you screen callers, you interview people for the Bluff [The Listener] tape. Part of the reason they chose me for [”Everyone & Their Mom”] is because I did I this weekly Wednesday presentation — a really unhinged, way-too-long PowerPoint presentation about the [”Wait Wait”] guest that week, which was 25 percent about the guest and 75 percent making fun of Peter Sagal. I ended up getting extended three times on my internship to just keep doing what I was doing.
Q. How did hosting become something that was on the table?
A. Part of it was really good timing. “Wait Wait” was trying to expand a little bit. One thing that kept coming up was we want to expand our sensibility more towards younger people. Comedy is changing so fast — how can we address that and capture that and deliver that to more people? I think I just was there at the right time. It was very strange. Multiple times, people were like, “Emma, I don’t think we can hire you because you’re a college student,” And I was like, “That’s fine, I’ll pay you [if I can] do this job.” It somehow worked out.
Q. What is it like having your mom as a frequent guest?
A. It’s great. My mom is a huge NPR fan. I owe so much to my parents that it just feels really great to give her a little bit of a star moment.
Q. How do you balance a full class load with hosting?
A. It’s weird, because I will go to class and talk about the Protestant Reformation for two hours, and then I’ll come back home and tape an episode with celebrity chef Roy Choi. My friends are telling me I’m girlbossing too close to the sun, because I’m always tired now. But it’s great because my day is packed with things that I love to do, but it’s tiring. It’s hard to be a girlboss.
Q. What is it like interviewing well-known figures?
A. That’s something I just had to deal with. I interviewed my first celebrity, Roy Choi — I love Roy Choi. I didn’t know what to do, so I texted Peter Sagal, and he’s just like, “I don’t know, just play it cool.” And I’m like, “That’s not good advice.” I just say one thing at the beginning, get it out of my system, like, “Roy Choi, you’re the best. I’ve watched everything you’ve made.”
Q. How does it feel to have the mantle of youngest NPR host?
A. I still haven’t really come to terms with it, I guess. It’s definitely a huge honor that they’re trusting me to be the voice of the show. I always thought that I was going to do comedy for 10 years postgrad, and have so much debt, and then eventually, maybe, I would get a writing job when I’m 40. I never thought that I would be able to do this in college. It’s really exciting to help usher in a new era of new content for new audiences.
Q. From your experience so far, what do you think makes a good host?
A. I think it’s someone who doesn’t take themselves too seriously. Peter Sagal gave me this advice the other day: Your job isn’t to be funny, your job is to be there to make other people look funny. A host really needs to be able to take a step back. It’s not about me. I’ve created a space for people to come hang out and be the best version of themselves. I joke about this, but truly it’s just being a vibe curator of the whole space and making sure everyone’s having fun. It’s like being the host of a party — everyone should come, have fun, and leave happier than when they came.
Interview was edited and condensed.